tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly PBS July 15, 2012 10:30am-11:00am EDT
coming up, when federal prosecutors break the rules. >> these career prosecutors believe that nobody can touch them. nobody. also, as the glacier melts on top of mount kilimanjaro, in africa, a lutheran bishop's campaign to plant more than a million trees to try to head off environmental disaster. nk
welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. the episcopal church this week became the largest u.s. protestant denomination to authorize an official liturgy to bless same-sex unions. the provisional rite was approved at the church's general convention in indianapolis, and it will be re-evaluated in three years. bishops who don't approve of same-sex unions may ban their priests from using the liturgy. convention delegates also voted to explicitly allow the ordination of transgendered
people. sexuality activists praised the moves, but conservatives said the new policies will further increase tensions in the worldwide anglican communion. meanwhile, last week, the presbyterian church usa narrowly defeated a proposal that would have changed that denomination's definition of marriage from the union of a man and a woman to the union of two people. a new crisis for the orthodox church in america. the church's top leader, metropolitan jonah, resigned saying he had "neither the personality nor the temperament" for the position. jonah is a convert from the episcopal church. he was elected to the top position in late 2008, just 12 days after he became a bishop. his predecessor had been accused of financial impropriety. jonah tried to implement several reforms, but many church members didn't like the changes.
the orthodox church in america was founded by russian orthodox immigrants. it became self-governing after russia became a communist and atheist nation. there's also been turmoil this week surrounding the ordination of a new catholic bishop in china. chinese catholics have been rallying in support of shanghai bishop thaddeus ma daqin, who disappeared after his ordination ceremony last saturday. the vatican and china's communist government have long disagreed over who has the authority to ordain chinese bishops. bishop ma had the approval of both. but at the end of his ordination ceremony, he shocked the audience by announcing that he was resigning from the government body that oversees catholics in china. there were conflicting reports about whether his subsequent disappearance was voluntary. the u.s. state department
called once again for the immediate release of an iranian pastor currently facing a death sentence for converting from islam to christianity. youcef nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 and charged with apostasy. he has now spent more than 1,000 days in jail. the state department said nadarkhani was facing possible execution, "simply for following his faith." several u.s. religious groups have also advocated for his freedom. a group of prominent european rabbis denounced a recent court decision in germany which said circumcision amounted to bodily harm. the rabbis urged jews in that country to continue circumcising their baby boys, calling the ritual a "foundation" of the jewish faith. the court ruling did not outlaw circumcision but many fear it will discourage parents from circumcising their children out
of fear of prosecution. melinda gates, of the gates foundation, this week pledged to donate $560 million to expand access to birth control for women in poor countries. speaking in london, gates, who is a catholic, said she did not consider contraception a controversial issue. she quoted a recent poll showing that 82% of catholics find it morally acceptable. earlier this year, gates told "newsweek" magazine she believed providing contraception was in line with catholic teachings on social justice. the dalai lama has provoked criticism by refusing to denounce the practice of self- immolation by tibetans who are protesting china's policy toward tibet. during an interview on his 77th birthday, the dalai lama said he must "remain neutral."
on the one hand, he said, he did not want to upset the families of those who had set themselves on fire. on the other, he said china would blame him if he said anything in support of the protests. close to 40 tibetans have committed self-immolation in the past year. we have a troubling special report now about charges that some federal prosecutors are themselves disobeying the rules. at issue is the responsibility of prosecutors in criminal cases to share evidence with the defense that might keep an innocent person from going to prison. tim o'brien has our story. >> reporter: remember the infamous duke rape case? where a prosecutor accused three members of the school's lacrosse team of rape and knowingly withheld evidence that would have cleared them? we like to think of such cases as aberrations, but in recent
years, several high-profile justice department ce esav hav been thrown out because of similar misconduct. joseph digenova, the former united states attorney for the district of columbia, says justice department prosecutors routinely withhold evidence that could be helpful to the defense and rarely is anything done about it. >> i'm a former united states attorney. i locked up a lot of people. i believe in the department, i believe in its mission. but the department is in real trouble. this is serious business. these career prosecutors believe that nobody can touch them. nobody. that's a very dangerous thing in a free society and the stevens case proves it in spades. >> reporter: the "stevens case" is the botched prosecution of former alaska senator ted stevens, one of the longest serving and most influential members of congress. the justice department had accused the senator of accepting home improvements from an oil executive and then misleading
congress about it. >> few prosecutions cut as close to the relationship of the american people to the government as this one did. if the justice department is going to allow a case involving a sitting senator seeking re-election to go to the jury weeks before that senator's general election, it must be absolutely certain that the defendant's rights were meticulously observed. >> reporter: what is now certain in the stevens' case is that the senator's rights were not observed at all. he was convicted and, eight days later, narrowly lost his bid for re-election, altering the balance of power in the u.s. senate. but stevens might well have been acquitted and re-elected had prosecutors not repeatedly withheld critical evidence. the trial judge, emmit sullivan, berated government prosecutors, saying "in nearly 25 years on the bench, i've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that i've seen in this case." the senator's attorney, brendan sullivan, is famous for winning cases by uncovering the
misconduct and ethical violations of the accusers. >> when prosecutors get into the heat of battle, something takes over the competitive spirit, their reputational implications, and they want to win at all costs. they then begin to think if i lose this case it will be very bad for me professionally because i'll be known as the lawyer, the prosecutor, who lost a case that may be very visible. >> reporter: a 1963 supreme court case called brady versus maryland requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense any material evidence that might be helpful. that case involved john brady, convicted and sentenced to death for murder even though a ef-dcoendant had actually confessed to the crime. prosecutors never shared that confession with brady's lawyers. >> in throwing out brady's death sentence, justice william
o. douglas alluded to the inscription over the door to the attorney general's office at the department of justice "the united states wins its point whenever justice is done its citizens in the courts." the idea, the goal is "justice," not merely winning convictions. >> reporter: for some prosecutors, that is a tough pill. assisting those they believe to be guilty goes against the grain. whatever the motivation in the stevens case, the end result was a black eye for the justice department. attorney general eric holder had only been in office two months, but he found the prosecution's case so riddled with misconduct, he asked the court to dismiss all charges, and has been widely praised for doing so. holder declined our request for an interview and the department would not provide any other spokesman to speak on the record. but the department could not decline a call from the senate judiciary committee which has
been looking into the stevens case and all of its ramifications. deputy attorney general james cole told senators the case has prompted a department wide training program to educate all u.s. prosecutors about their obligations to share exculpatory evidence with the defense. >> to a point where everybody, every supervisor, every trial attorney, is required every year to take the training. as the deputy attorney general, i am required to take this training every year. >> reporter: committee chairman, pat leahy, is himself a former prosecutor. >> in the stevens case, they seemed to be driven by "let's get a conviction," at all costs. and somehow justice, the question of justice, just gets lost. >> i think it should be noted, again, the failures in this receive a lot of attention, but they're actually very rare. >> doesn't the very nature of the brady rule, and the violation of the brady rule, make it somewhat difficult to detect by its very nature?
>> well, it can be. >> reporter: no one can know how common brady violations are. some defense lawyers claim they happen all the time. over the years, some prosecutors have treated the brady decision, and the obligations it imposes, as a game. in one of the cases stemming from the collapse of the energy giant enron, the government agreed to provide everything it had -- 80 million pages, without any guidance as to what might be important or otherwise helpful. the brady decision requires prosecutors to turn over only evidence that is "material," a judgment made unilaterally by the prosecutor. and if the prosecutor gets it wrong, who's to know? >> right now, the standard is a prosecutor says to himself, "well, this information that i have, is it really material to the defense. can you imagine such a standard? here's your adversary deciding whether it's material to your defense. they don't even think defensively. they don't know what your
defense is, and yet they've got to make that decision. >> s2197 would eliminate the materiality requirement as a matter of statutory law. >> reporter: alaska's senator murkowski has introduced legislation that would require that any evidence that can help the defense be turned over. but the justice department opposes that. deputy attorney general cole testifying no new laws are needed. >> because the problem was not what the rules were that were in place. the problem was that the prosecutors in the case didn't follow the rules. >> reporter: cases get reversed when prosecutors don't follow the law, but very little ever happens to the offending prosecutor. notwithstanding a finding of "reckless professional misconduct" in the stevens case, only two prosecutors were punished, one suspended for 40 days, another for 15 days. sullivan's law firm issued a written statement calling the sanctions "pathetic" and "laughable" and conclusive proof that "the department of justice is not capable of disciplining its prosecutors."
recent history might s-dm to ht bear that out. an investigative report by usa today identie edor mthan or 200 cases thrown out by judges t ul misconduct or ethical violations, but only one of those prosecutors was removed. prosecutors, whether at the justice department or down at the county courthouse, are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. they decide who gets charged and what they are charged with, life and death decisions in some cases. and when they themselves violate the law, when they withhold evidence or even fabricate a case, they cannot be sued. they have absolute immunity for their official acts. >> they can intentionally engage in wrongdoing, obtain a conviction, put a person in jail for decades and when caught, there's no lawsuit that can be brought by that individual
person who's just lost a decade or two of their lives. >> reporter: senator stevens won his fight with the justice department, but lost his life t -monthla ar ins plane r crash. the justice department's prosecution, and how it backfired, will surely be part of his legacy. but will it make any difference in how prosecutors go about their work? that will take better education and training, as attorney general holder has promised. it will also require accountability, meaningful sanctions for prosecutors who themselves fail to follow the law. in the end, it is a matter of trust, which, as the department of justice is now learning, can be elusive. once it's gone, it's difficult to get back. for "religion and ethics for "religion and ethics news weekly," i'm tim o'brien in washington.
we have a story today about climate change in africa, where the glacier on top of mount kilimanjaro is melting, causing fear of drought and famine in the farmland below. also, where a lutheran bishop is leading a campaign to try to head off disaster by planting trees. millions of them. lucky severson reports from tanzania. >> reporter: the greeting is especially rambunctious because we're traveling with the african version of johnny appleseed. some call him the "tree bishop." >> the parish pastor has given us a copy of the report. >> reporter: of all the trees they have planted. >> yes, showing the total number which has been planted only by this parish is 46,083. >> reporter: his name is frederick shoo and he is the assistant bishop of the northern diocese of the evangelical lutheran church of tanzania.
he oversees 500,000 members and 164 parishes. the bishop is on a crusade to plant trees to save the glaciers on mount kilimanjaro. >> at the beginning it was very difficult to be understood. i remember when i spoke even among some pastors, and they were saying, instead of preaching spiritual things, now he's talking about the environment. what does it mean? i mean, they thought i would have, maybe i was out of -- maybe my senses. >> reporter: today it's not a hard sell. maybe tanzanians haven't seen the nasa pictures showing the rapidly diminishing snows of mount kilimanjaro, but they know something's wrong. moses samizi is the district commissioner. >> everybody knows how the condition of our region is changing, about the global warming. it is now too hot in our region. it wasn't like this before. >> reporter: bishop shoo says he began noticing the changes in
the weather about 30 years ago. >> it does not need a nod see ph.d to see that already people are experiencing the impact of global warming. a simple farmer in the village can tell that something is wrong with our climate. >> reporter: trees are an important part of the ecosystem because they trap the moisture that helps create glaciers. without the forest's humidity, the winds blow dry instead of adding moisture to the mountain's environment. >> we used to have water full from one bank to another. now you can see very little water remaining. >> reporter: in this land of wonders, of animals roaming uncaged, and ancient tribes, africa's highest mountain is losing its l senthrydahining rytop. in the last 100 years, 92% of the glaciers atop mount kilimanjaro have disappeared. some estimates predict they will
all be all gone by the year 2020. and without the ice and snow, the rivers that flow down the mountain that nourish millions of tanzanians will simply dry up. if they don't have the water and you don't have the rain -- >> you're absolutely right. then there is no life here. the people will have to move or they die. >> reporter: many former local skeptics are now believers in bishop shoo and the church's mega tree garden with millions of saplings waiting to be planted. they take trees very seriously here. there are plants for 152 more nurseries. even the prison sends orange-clad inmates to load up on saplings. on this day the bishop has local officials and church leaders planting trees in a clearing. they're doing this because they're convinced that they are the victims of global warming and that it is caused by man here and around the world.
near kilimanjaro, it is man cutting trees. sometimes giant trees. for export. for housing. for charcoal. and to make room to grow food. >> you will find that people -- >> the pastor preaches about global warming from the pulpit. you think mankind has caused all the problems? >> yes. it is created by human being. >> who cuts the trees down? >> we can't tell because people just cut it. >> reporter: that's why they're planting these in these old cemeteries. he says no one would steal trees from a cemetery. >> in the beginning of the bible in the book of genesis, it is well stated that god created
human being and other creatures, but he gave the human being the greatest responsibility -- to take care of the creation. when we care for creation, we care for life. >> reporter: at this parish, and in all those in the bishop's diocese, youngsters are required to plant trees before they can be confirmed. pastor martha says she preaches god's gospel and that includes caring for the environment. >> that's why we have planted a lot of tree there. >> reporter: some who come here wonder what all the fuss is about. they say, hey, there are trees everywhere and there are, but not nearly as many as before, and every year far more trees are being cleared and cut down than the millions that are now being planted. >> of course we cannot replace the amount of tree which has been cut in this short time, but
i think we must begin somewhere. >> reporter: this is a man who loves most all living things except critters who chew on trees. >> what do they call it? >> gopher. >> yeah. they eat the root. you can see. they destroy the plants like this one. you know? it's been eaten by this. this is terrible. this is terrible. >> reporter: he is a man with a mission who is frustrated that the whole world isn't as concerned as he is. >> if the snow on the top of kilimanjaro goes away then it's going to be really big blow, not only to the people living around here, but also to the -- to the humanity, i would say, because this is one of the world's wonders, i would call it. if there is no snow there, you can imagine what it will mean. >> reporter: we were staying in
the foothills of mount kilimanjaro for six days and we never got to see it because the constants cloud cover -- clouds, but not a lot of rain. this is a wedding ceremony for a prominent local couple. aside from the pageantry, the horn blowers wearing wildebeest headdresses, this occasion is unique in one other way -- the bride and groom agreed, at bishop shoo's insistence, that they plant a tree at the end of the ceremony. for "religion and ethics for "religion and ethics news weekly," i'm lucky severson in the foothills of mount kilimanjaro. on our calendar, for muslims, ramadan begins this coming week with the sighting of the new moon, expected on friday. during the month-long observance, muslims who are able to do so fast every day from
dawn to sunset and offer special prayers and gifts to the poor, all to become closer to god and neighbor. they often break their fast with traditional treats, such as dates. throughout the year, devout muslims are required to pray five times a day, while facing the holy city of mecca, in saudi arabia. but some muslims say it can be difficult to figure out just where mecca is. now, for the directionally-challenged believer, a designer from the uk has created an illuminating prayer rug. it has an internal compass that lights up when facing mecca. the designer hopes to begin mass production of the rug soon. finally, pope benedict xvi celebrated the feast day of st. benedict with a private concert held at his summer residence, castle gandolfo.
a selection of beethoven symphonies was performed by a group called west-eastern divan, made up of both palestinian and israeli musicians. the pope praised the orchestra and encouraged it to continue, "to sow the hope for peace in the world through the universal language of music." that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on smartphones. time on smartphonesmartphones. and you can now find our videos, including full episodes of our program, on the pbs iphone and ipad app. it's free and available in the app store. there's always much more on our website as well. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, celebrations held in india and nepal for the dalai lama's 77th birthday.